12 January 2011


At first I thought it was just your typical big city rudeness. That self-absorbed and abrasive attitude, usually associated with New Yorkers, had probably spread northwards to Montréal. And my fellow city dwellers presumably just found it cool to obstruct my way, to keep standing when I walk up from behind, to ignore the subtle noises and harrumphs, to feign ignorance of other people's presence in public places.

But then I travelled. And as I did, I noticed much the same behavior in other cities, including the Swiss one I used to call home. I was puzzled. What had happened? Had the world just collectively lost sensibility and sensitivity? Was it no longer basic courtesy to move aside for others approaching? And why did they all startle when I eventually pushed past them? Was I surrounded by zombies?

Not quite, a closer investigation revealed. But I wasn't far off the mark, either. As it turns out, most urbanites these days engulf themselves in an auditory bubble. Look closely, and you'll see two white cables running from their ears to a pocket somewhere. That's the sign! They are i-solated. I-nconscient of their physical surroundings. And i-ncredibly i-rritating! Thankfully, it seems as if at least the annoying habit of singing along to what's playing in the personal bubble has grown somewhat out of fashion. in the 90ties, the heyday of the walkman, this was so common that it even inspired a quiz show, Tram Caruso, on my favorite radio station.

My own life continues mostly unplugged. Although I have won one of these i-things at a trade show last year, I've barely used it so far. With the exception of specific situations like a plane ride or a run, the notion of engulfing myself in my own sound has never quite rang true with me. I'd much rather ride the metro reading my newspaper or, even better, watching and listening to other people. If they'd still be talking, that is. As it happens, I'll have to devise my own little quiz show: Based on age, gender, attire and number of head bobs per minute, what could be playing in a person's bubble? And how many times will I have to nudge until I am finally let through? Unplug and play!

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